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Natural products: Six steps to supermarket big leagues

Natural products: Six steps to supermarket big leagues

Natural products suppliers are vying to introduce new items to supermarkets, but often they don’t understand how this retail channel really works.

Supermarkets are the food retail big leagues. Success here is based on different rules than in natural food stores. That’s something retailers keep telling suppliers, but it needs to be repeatedly emphasized.

Suppliers received excellent advice at SN’s recent educational event held during Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore. The tips came from Mike Anderson, president of Natural/Specialty sales, Acosta Sales & Marketing, and Scott Silverman, vice president of Growth Solutions, KeHE.

I’ve picked out six of the most important points and put together a quick cheat sheet here. Feel free to make it required reading for partners. You’ll see it’s built around baseball language in homage to the upcoming playoffs and the sport-like competitiveness of the supermarket channel.

• Have a killer pitch

It all begins with this: The product needs to stand out in this intensely competitive retail channel.

A unique brand story — including ingredients and packaging — is what get’s attention, Silverman said.

Another big plus: When a product is first to meet a new health and wellness need not being addressed today, emphasized Anderson.

• Know the field well

There’s no substitute for suppliers being mega-prepared.

“Emerging brands should become masters of the category and competitive set,” Silverman stressed.

That means really understanding the size of the opportunity, and convincing the category manager that a unique new product will make up the sales and profits of whatever it replaces on the shelf, Anderson explained.

• Navigate farm clubs

There are important calculations involved in the precise route of a product to supermarkets.

When representing an entirely new category, compared to a mature one, products are typically first proven in the natural/specialty store channel before getting a shot in supermarkets.

However, recently this appears to be changing somewhat. There are some examples of conventional food retailers, including Target and Kroger, accepting early-stage brands, Anderson observed.

• Please fans on the road

Suppliers who hit it big in their local market could fool themselves into thinking that success will automatically translate elsewhere.

“It’s not as easy when you jump out of your market,” Anderson said. “And you need to hit it out of the park in your local market to get the interest of a corporate buyer.”

• Stay patient in the dugout

It takes time to succeed with supermarkets, so stick with it.

“Don’t be impatient and don’t lose passion,” Silverman said. “And there’s a balance between being tenacious and annoying — don’t be annoying.”

• Continue to run the bases

Achieving supermarket success is a big deal, but after hitting it big, the danger is complacency.


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“Don’t take your foot off the gas,” Anderson said. “You have to keep educating consumers about your product and why it’s better.”

There you have the six pieces of advice. Let’s consider it a starting point for partnering conversations and a prerequisite for hitting home runs with new products in supermarkets.

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